American Powertrain supplied the slick, aluminum trans crossmember that bolted the 4L80-E
With stand-alone control of electronically controlled overdrive automatics, it's easier to dial in accurate upshifts, and you can just stab the throttle, steer it, and the trans will do the rest. The performance world is changing. While power remains almighty, the new world is all about how to get that power to the tires. The best way to control an automatic transmission is to use one of the new, electronically controlled overdrive gearboxes. But swapping one of these newer e-trannies into an older muscle car requires some type of aftermarket, stand-alone transmission controller. Names like EZ TCU and Simple Shift made us wonder if these controllers could live up to their hype. The only way to know for sure was to put them to the test.
We gathered five different controllers and subjected them to a real-world flogging on a big-block street car to see if each could do the job. All the controllers perform the same basic functions, allowing you to custom-tailor shift points both at part- and wide-open throttle, as well as shift firmness at various throttle openings. How specifically each box accomplishes these tasks and how easy it is to effect changes are the key questions. Perhaps the most important differentiation for the average enthusiast is whether the box requires a laptop computer or relies on a hand-held device with analog controls.
Here's our 496ci Rat nestled comfortably in the engine compartment. We chose a carbureted
Our Test Mule
The best way to test these controllers was to bolt them all in the same car and evaluate their performance. Car Craft family member Ed Taylor recently purchased a '70 Nova that had been languishing in front of Ken Duttweiler's shop for several years. We power-washed the grease left behind by the previous turbo Buick V6 and bolted in a Holley, carbureted, 496ci big-block Chevy. You might recall the "Rat" as the dyno mule we whipped mercilessly for a big-block oval-port-head test in our Mar. '08 issue ("Big-Block Cylinder Head Test," pg.30). Behind our 590hp, 620-lb-ft rodent, we bolted a used 4L80E that Ed Taylor scored from Craigslist. We stuffed the 4L80E into the car using a TCI flexplate and a 10-inch lockup Street Fighter torque converter along with a very nice custom aluminum crossmember from American Powertrain and a Dynatech aluminum driveshaft, and the big pieces were in place. Of course, it took more than just a motor and trans to turn this orphan into a road warrior
The Hedman headers settled right in place once we added a manual steering box and dinged a
The Nova badly needed seats, so we bolted in a pair of Scat seats along with a TCI FastGat
We mounted the sticky Toyo Proxes R888 275/40ZR17 rear tires and slightly smaller fronts t
Other goodies we wanted for the buildup included a new pair of bucket seats from Scat to replace the aged originals and a new set of Toyo Proxes R888 sticky 17-inch tires obtained through our pals at TreadSource and mounted on lightweight RT-S Weld wheels. With the big-block squeezed in, there was no room for a mechanical fan, so we opted for a pair of electric fans from Maradyne mounted to a killer Afco aluminum radiator. That combination worked to prevent the engine temp from exceeding 195 degrees F. We also added a set of Wilwood front disc brakes because the Rat promised enough power to demand equal stopping performance. For the intake, we needed a 950hp Holley to feed the Rat, and for the exhaust side a pair of Hedman 2-inch headers snaked around the stock manual steering box. We completed the exhaust with a great-sounding, 2.5-inch cross-pipe system from MagnaFlow installed by our pal Kevin McMillan. After two months of busted- knuckle work, the car was up and running, and we were ready for street testing.